BASKETBALL

Buckeye Bruce Thornton shows pace but Brice Sensabaugh injured in Kingdom Summer League

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Four years at Michigan State taught Travis Trice a few things about playing point guard in the Big Ten.

In going from a freshman who averaged 4.5 points per game to a senior who helped lead the Spartans to the 2015 Final Four while averaging 15.3 points and 5.1 assists per game, Trice learned it’s not so much about how fast you can go but how well you can change speeds.

In other words, it’s about pace. And after playing against Ohio State freshman point guard Bruce Thornton in Sunday’s Kingdom Summer League, it was the first word Trice used to describe the Buckeye.

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“I like his pace,” Trice said. “It seems like he plays older than what he is. A lot of times you see college guys out here and you’re seeing them move at one pace, going too fast. I like that.”

It’s something Thornton said he’s been working on. A four-star prospect from Alpharetta (Georgia) Milton, Thornton was named his state’s Mr. Basketball and arrived at Ohio State in line for a significant role on this year’s team.

Sunday, he was frequently matched up against Trice, and the veteran frequently got the upper hand. Early in the game, Trice got around Thornton for a bucket at the rim. At the other end, Trice’s defense forced Thornton to take a pair of early, contested deep jumpers that didn’t fall.

But when Thornton started to put Trice in pick-and-roll situations, the freshman started to find some openings. Paired with former Ohio State forward J.D. Weatherspoon, Thornton used his physicality and court vision to steadily get to the rim as the game progressed.

Twice, Thornton scored while getting fouled on drives to the basket. One of them came with Trice attempting to stop him.

“It really helped me going against somebody like that that’s quick,” Thornton said of Trice. “It helped me stay on my feet on defense and work on my offense as well. It’s great seeing players like him, great players like him I can play against in this league. He’s played so many high-level minutes in the Big Ten and overseas.”

Thornton played the entirety of the 36-minute game. He finished with 18 points on 7 of 17 shooting and was 2 of 5 from 3-point range.

“He’s definitely got a maturity to his game, and physically he’s strong and big enough,” Trice said. “He’s ready for the Big Ten as far as that goes. I’m excited to watch him this year.”

The league isn’t always well-suited for point guards like Thornton, who aren’t merely pure scorers going out to get up as many shots as possible. For a second straight week, Thornton started slowly, found a rhythm as he grew more accustomed to his teammates and eventually started spreading the ball around more effectively.

Doing so is among Thornton’s primary on-court goals.

“As a point guard playing with new players, you’ve got to figure out everybody real quick throughout the game,” he said. “When I’ve got a feel for everybody, that’s where I can do what I can do to help the team win: scoring, passing, defense, all aspects of the game so I can help the team win.”

The game made Thornton realize that he needs to work on his conditioning so that he’s more able to knock down 3s at the end of games. In summer workouts, Thornton said coach Chris Holtmann and assistant coach Jake Diebler have been working with him on his pace.

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“Every day in the gym, I work on it, my change of speed so I can get downhill while using my strength,” he said. “It can be a good attribute I can have.”

Trice, who played professionally alongside his brother, D’Mitrik, and won a championship last season in Poland, said he’s signed to play in Spain this season.

Brice Sensabaugh leaves early with ankle injury

Last week, Ohio State freshman Brice Sensabaugh took center stage when he scored 50 points. In the first game of this afternoon, Sensabaugh had to watch the ending of the game with a bag of ice on his right ankle after injuring it during the game.

In shortened action, Sensabaugh finished with 12 points. Several of his teammates said the injury did not appear to be serious, although Sensabaugh might miss a week or so of summer workouts. Without him, three current and one former Buckeye ensured that Ohio State remained well-represented on the court.

Third-year center Zed Key led those Buckeyes with 17 points, while former Buckeye Keyshawn Woods had 12 points, West Virginia transfer Sean McNeil had 10 and freshman Felix Okpara had 9 including a 3-pointer. Late in the game, Key got separation from the 6-11 Okpara and dunked a pass in transition before raising the roof as he ran back up the court.

“It’s good exposure to come up here and play with some older guys, some experienced guys, some pros,” McNeil said. “A lot of versatility here. In the summer you’re obviously trying to work on your game, so being with a bunch of talented guys you’re trying to pick and choose where I can add stuff to my game.”

When he committed to Ohio State after three seasons with the Mountaineers, McNeil said he was looking forward to showcasing more of what he can do with the ball in his hands. So far, he said, he’s enjoyed the opportunity to do so with the Buckeyes.

“We’ve had some team workouts, some skill workouts and that in itself I’m able to show what I can do, show I can create more off the bounce, handle the ball, make plays for myself but more importantly make plays for others,” he said. “

McNeil said his summer goals are to “get in the best shape of my life. Working on my speed, my footwork, continuing to do what I do well. Shoot the ball. Being able to come off ball screens. Coach Holtmann and the staff, that’s their kind of offensive style so being able to create more off the bounce, be more versatile in that way, get my teammates involved and do what I do.”

Woods spent part of last winter practicing with the Buckeyes while rehabilitating a knee injury. Once he was ready to play professionally again, Woods signed in Greece, played a few games and then signed a two-month deal to finish the season in Turkey.

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Now he’s working to get back to the shape he was in before the injury.

“I just come out here to have fun and show what I work on,” he said of playing in the Kingdom. “I work on my game every day. My style of play, how I play, I’ll probably be playing until I’m 50 or 60, just coming in here and hooping with the young guys and having fun. I play simple. I just love it.”

Kalen Etzler teams with new Ohio State teammate Colby Baumann

Neither played for the Buckeyes last season, but Kalen Etzler and Colby Baumann are now teammates both in the Kingdom and at Ohio State. Eztler, a redshirt freshman, suited up Sunday alongside new walk-on addition Colby Baumann.

With just one reserve, both Buckeyes saw ample playing time. Etzler took advantage, scoring 25 points while going 5 for 9 from 3-point range and 10 for 16 overall. The numbers reflect an offseason emphasis for Etzler, who is working to become a more consistent perimeter shooter.

“When I go to the gym, primarily that’s the No. 1 thing I do is go get a lot of shots up, a lot of reps,” he said. “As soon as the season ended in March and I had nothing but free time I’d go to the gym 2-3 times a day. I was getting up anywhere from 500-1,000 shots a day and it was daily.”

Etzler twice connected on 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. On one occasion, he buried a transition shot from the left wing and then quickly hit a deep 3 from near the top of the circle. 

A Texas native who spent the last two years at Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy, Baumann finished with 9 points on 3 of 7 shooting (all from 3-point range). He hit his first 3-point attempt of the game, swishing one from the right corner, and later hit back-to-back 3s.

“I fly kind of under the radar,” Baumann said. “Most people don’t know me yet, but I think they saw some of my shooting ability and just being able to get it to my teammates whenever I can. The coaches, the players, the whole staff that puts on this event, it’s awesome. I love the way everyone plays and how passionate they are about the game.”

Wright State transfer Tanner Holden, teammates absorb blowout loss

In a game that quickly got lopsided and stayed that way, Ohio State wing Tanner Holden scored 13 points on 6 of 16 shooting in what would become a 115-93 loss in the nightcap.

“It’s different,” Tanner said of playing in the league. “It gets kind of chaotic at points, but you play against good competition. A lot of Ohio State guys come here to play. They kind of encourage us to play here outside of open gym. It’s good to come out here, play and run a little bit.”

Playing primarily off the ball, Holden often simply didn’t have the ball swung to his side as other players took their shots. During the first half, Holden pulled down a defensive rebound, pushed the ball and knifed into the paint only to miss a layup at the rim. Later, he showed the quick first step that helped him emerge as a star for the Raiders on a drive from the top of the circle that resulted in a foul at the rim.

He did not attempt any 3-pointers.

“It tests our skills playing against some of the top competition in Columbus and the area,” he said. “Definitely you get a taste of that. When we play open gym (at Ohio State), we have our days where we have really good basketball.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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